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Schools: The New Normal | Special Needs School Teaching Students New Routines To Safely Navigate Daily Life

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Several special needs schools in our area welcomed students back inside Thursday for the first time since March.

One school spent months transforming its space so in-classroom instruction can be offered five days a week, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported.

Thursday marked day one of a new routine for 8-year-old Matt Pilchik, who is on the autism spectrum.

"Teachers are reminding him of what school is like and how it's different from all the routines that he had prior," said Beth Pilchick, Matt's mother. "It's less kids in the class."

"School is back again, but the good thing is tomorrow is Friday," Matt said.


Before Matt stepped inside the Manhattan Children's Center, he had to put on his mask and have his temperature taken.

Classrooms designed for up to eight students now hold up to four.

Areas like the conference room, gym and staff lounge were transformed to create additional space.

Hand washing stations line the hallways. There are ten extra air purifiers. Signs remind students how to wear a mask and wash their hands.

Chief Operating Officer Abby Weiss helped compile a 46-page handbook.

"We're so excited to see our kids back, see their smiling faces. It might be through one of our transparent masks, but we are definitely ready for them," said Weiss.

MORE: Schools: The New Normal | Remote Learning Poses New Challenges For Parents Of Special Needs Students

Before a student even makes their way to school, a parent or guardian must fill out a form by 7 a.m. affirming their child doesn't have symptoms.

Additionally, teachers undergo their own screenings at staggered times.

Each teacher gets a "toolkit" that includes a door opener.

With almost 200 staff members, there's one-on-one learning.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Schools: The New Normal

Attorney Gary Mayerson, who wrote "Autism's Declaration of Independence" about navigating uncertainty, says, until now, children with autism were encouraged to have close interactions.

So, schools are teaching students what they must do differently because of the coronavirus.

"Must include protocols for learning about how to wear masks, how to sustain masks... where to stand in relation to another human being - how far away," said Mayerson.

RELATED STORY: Schools: The New Normal | CBS2 Gets Look At Safety Measures At Elementary School In Wayne, N.J.

The first day changes didn't seem to phase Matt, who's focused on aspiring to be like his favorite artist: Leonardo da Vinci.

"It's gonna be OK. It's actually gonna be better," said his mother, Beth, about the school year.

Fundraising made it possible for the school to have a variety personal protective equipment available, including KN95 masks, and to hire an extra nurse.

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